Men’s Big East Notebook

Game of the Week: Georgetown at Syracuse Feb. 8, 7 p.m.

These are the two teams that sit atop the Big East standings, with Georgetown holding the tiebreaker over Marquette for second place in the conference. Georgetown and Syracuse have yet to play this year, and this will be the Big East’s best opportunity to showcase what it’s got. This will be Georgetown’s third game in one week while it will be Syracuse’s second of the week and second with sophomore center Fab Melo back from his academic suspension.

Player of the Week: Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut sophomore forward

Lamb’s squad has lost four of its last five contests, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t doing his part to alter that. Last week he recorded 17 points and eight rebounds on 9-of-12 from the free throw line in a win over Seton Hall and a 14-point, six-rebound performance in a loss to Georgetown.

Melo back for Syracuse

The first and only time the No. 2 Syracuse Orange lost this season was the first game it had to play without Fab Melo. The sophomore center was suspended for unresolved academic issues from the first semester prior to Syracuse’s battle with Notre Dame on Jan. 21.

The Fighting Irish bested the Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) that night 67-58.

But on Saturday, Syracuse got its man in the middle back as the 7-foot sophomore posted a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes. He was 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and added two blocks and three rebounds.

The last time Melo suited up he recorded a double-double over Pittsburgh (10 points, 10 rebounds) on Jan. 16. On the season he’s averaging 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. His 62 blocks are the second most in the Big East (3.0 per game) which makes him extremely valuable in the middle of coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.

Without Melo, many began to question whether Syracuse was truly the Big East’s best team. But Syracuse has kept its doubters at bay, losing only the one contest without Melo.

This will be a big week for the Orange, who have the opportunity to cement themselves as the top dog of the conference with a home contest against No. 12/11 Georgetown (18-4, 8-3 Big East) on Wednesday and a battle with struggling Connecticut (15-8, 5-6 Big East) on Saturday.

A win against Georgetown would give Syracuse a three-game edge on the Hoyas and would at least keep the Orange two games ahead of anyone else in the conference with six games left.

Notre Dame rising

The improbable season continues for the Fighting Irish (15-8, 7-3 Big East).

On Saturday they toppled then-No. 15 Marquette 76-59 and ascended into the top-four in the conference standings.

The Fighting Irish were projected to finish 11th in the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll — and that was with senior forward Tim Abromaitis (15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season), who was lost for the year with a torn ACL.

When Abromaitis tore his ACL on Nov. 25 the Fighting Irish were supposed to fall with their senior leader. But the Fighting Irish missed that memo.

They are the difference between Syracuse and an undefeated season. They are tough at home (12-1, 4-1 Big East) and currently own the conference’s longest winning streak (four).

At the heart of the Notre Dame rebellion is junior forward Jack Cooley and sophomore guard Eric Atkins. Both have stepped up their games since last season when neither averaged over 5.8 points, 3.1 rebounds or 3.2 assists per game.

This season Cooley averages nearly a double-double (10.6 points, 8.4 rebounds per game) and Atkins is Notre Dame’s leading scorer (13.1 points per game).

Of the Fighting Irish’s final eight contests, five are against teams under .500 in conference and of the three teams over .500, two match-ups are against West Virginia (16-8, 6-5 Big East).

If Notre Dame wins the games it should and pulls out one of the West Virginia games then it should be in prime position for the coveted double-bye in the Big East Championship tournament.